The ‘Me’ Firewall

Being a digital media consultant I have an interest in how Web 2.0 can mesh in companies; Enterprise 2.0. Although it’s natural that companies (I’m talking non-Web 2.0 or internet companies) would want to take advantage of the great Web 2.0 products and services that have captured the imagination of consumers all over the world, there still has yet to emerge any assemblence of widespread adoption. Why? Because it’s not a technology issue, it’s about ‘me’.

Last year company execs wondered what all the Facebook fuss was about. Then they were told that people love social networks, they should have one for their employees, and that future employees of Generation Y will need one since they’re growing up on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc.

Well, I beg to differ. Much of what we’re hearing about the internet generation is what was said about hippies in the 60s – they’ll change the workplace! Well, hippies became yuppies, and yuppies are the CEOs of today…did the workplace change? Not really.

Work Life vs. Me Life

Some people spend almost all hours of the day and night at work, others pull a 9 to 5. Unless someone is in the enviable position of loving their job so much it doesn’t even feel like work, most people have a separation between work life and Me Life: what they like to do and are not asked to do because they’re livelihood depends on it.

Me Life is that less stressful time when you live how you want to live: T.V., friends, family, gym, surfing online, etc. It’s not work and you don’t want it to look, feel, sounds, taste, or smell like work. It’s a deliberate separation to keep you sane.

My theory on why hippies didn’t change the workplace, and why Generation Y won’t is based on a few principles:

1. Business is about the bottom line. The company has a way of doing things that made it successful. They like that way because it works. Billions of dollars can’t be wrong.

2. People join the company because it’s successful and they want to be successful at the company. They do what the company tells them to do to ensure success (evidence is the hopeful wide-eyes of university recruits during on campus job interviews; it’s almost sad).

3. Company outings are work. If given a choice, people don’t want to hang out at the company happy hour, it’s usually boring, fake, or both (even if the boss is paying). You go because you have to show you’re part of the team but you’d rather be at a happy hour with your real friends.

3. Most people have things they do in life other than their jobs. They can’t wait to get away from work so they can enjoy these activities (their Me Life).

People want to separate work and life. If there is no separation then everything feels like work and life is miserable.  To keep things separate and have some sanity we put up our Me Firewall – making sure our work life doesn’t take over and destroy our whole life.

The Me Firewall is a necessity and presents a huge problem for Enterprise 2.0. Sure, it would be great to bring the benefits of Web 2.0 to the workplace. People would be more social, collaborative, and happy. Problem is, Web 2.0 is Me time. People love social networks like Facebook and MySpace because you can do and say what you want and not get an email from your boss saying something is inappropriate (just don’t add him/her as a friend). You can blog and not have to worry about corporate guidelines. You can mash things up and not have to think about IT compliance. Follow me?

Enterprise 2.0’s Sweet Spot

People aren’t going to use a social network at work if they see no benefit in it (I’ve seen it fail). Promises of connecting with your colleagues, reading blogs of co-workers, etc. are doomed to failure because:

In Work Life people compete for positions, work with people they have to, and do things they need to .  In Me Life people connect with people they want to, do things they life to do, and compete for fun are personal rewards.

There’s a place for Web 2.0 inside the company. It’s not trying to take advantage of the social dynamics and needs that exist in Me Life, but to provide tools that make work life better; helping people work better, smarter, and faster so they can succeed at work and leave the office to have more Me time.

Tools that let you work from home, spread ideas, manage projects easier, work with others on tasks better – call them innovation and productivity tools – this is where Enterprise 2.0 can stake it’s claim as a true benefit to people at work, enjoying adoption because people see the value, and ultimately changing the fabric of how work gets done. Business likes them because they bring down cost and boost productivity, people like them because they give more Me time.

This is why I think solutions like Intel’s SuiteTwo will have a tough time while 37Signal’s BaseCamp will keep succeeding. There’s a lot of companies jockeying for position and all would do well to remember the Me Firewall.

  • James

    Great post and I agree a lot with what you had to say. Even as a member of Gen Y and a person who blogs about the importance of work life integration. Heres a quote from one of my previous posts that basically sums up my thoughts, “I see younger workers less interested in a harsh separation and actually prefer to integrate personal and work into one entity, I guess we could just call that ‘life’.” I won’t rewrite it all here, but check it out.

    I also believe that Millennial’s have started and will continue to impact the workplace because we are so familiar with different tools and technologies that come so easy to us that we will put a demand on our employers to implement. My employer is a Fortune 500 utility company where the average age is twice that of my own (over 50). My company is being forced to change b/c those 50+ year old workers are retiring and being replaced by Gen Y workers. Those Gen Y workers have, in some instances, found better and easier ways to communicate, collaboration, and be generally productive.

    It sounds like you are arguing against forced social networking and suggesting companies need to wait for the right time. If that’s the case, I agree. I don’t see a use Facebook behind the firewall but some social enhancements to the corporate directory would be nice. I don’t need a type deployment but blogs are an ideal technology to replace company and departmental newsletters that I am spammed with. Wikipedia would be a bit much but wiki’s for group collaboration and general corporate information could come in handy.

    So just as email and instant messaging before these and other social/collaboration tools helped change the corporate world, Gen Y is brining some tools a long with them too and will be pushing forth the enterprise2.0 movement.

  • jhaidar

    Hi James,

    Thanks for the great comment. I agree with much of what you said. Gen Y will use the tools that make them more effective in the workplace, but they won’t use tools that don’t really have a purpose and are just there because someone convinced the boss that ’employees would love a social network’.

    An Enterprise 2.0 strategy needs to add value. If the value to there then we’ll see the same type of change that email brought – an easier, more effective, and valuable tool that was readily adopted.

  • derek

    You can also “hire to grow”. Jimmy might be hired into Customer Service, but if you notice that he’s a natural at figuring out ways to streamline his own processes, you might ask if he’d like some analyst training and a job change to ‘junior business analyst’. Try to find out what sorts of tasks your employees enjoy, and help them get better at it and do more of it. Don’t worry so much about trying to help them improve in the areas they score low on tests — just help them be great at and do more of what they love. They’ll thank you for it, and you’ll get a massive, free productivity boost to boot! In this way, Work Life can be a part of Me Life, and help make the “Me Firewall” a little shorter.